Posts Tagged ‘Torture’
I vividly remember when Obama voted for telecom immunity after promising that he would vote against it. Ever since then, I’ve been cautious/suspicious, and now that I see him echoing the Bush stance on secrecy regarding torture, I’m disappointed. Marisa Taylor of McClatchy has the story:
The Obama administration, which vowed to usher in a "new era of openness in our country," either has delayed action on requests for access to government records or refused to disclose them in three early, high-profile tests of the pledge.
This week, Justice Department lawyers announced that they’d continue to assert the state secrets argument made by the Bush administration in a lawsuit alleging that five men were tortured abroad in U.S.-run prisons.
In a separate case, the Obama Justice Department has agreed with the Bush administration — at least initially — that the news media shouldn’t have immediate access to court records in the ongoing Guantanamo detainee litigation.
In another example, the administration on Wednesday told the American Civil Liberties Union that it needed more time to decide whether to release undisclosed Bush Justice Department memos that justified harsh interrogation practices. A federal judge already had given government lawyers more time in the matter, which has been pending for five years.
"It looks like the new administration is stalling for time," said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. "They’ve offered a very public commitment to transparency, but so far that has not translated into action."
Interesting story from several aspects in McClatchy:
Britain has asked the U.S. for the immediate release of a former British resident who’s now on a hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, and the Obama administration has agreed to a "priority" review, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Wednesday.
The furor in Britain has put the Obama administration in an awkward position. President Barack Obama ordered a review of the more than 200 detainees still being held at Guantanamo within days of his inauguration three weeks ago, but he has yet to create a mechanism for releasing them.
Miliband said the Obama administration had yet to decide on the case of Binyam Mohamed, but he said that Britain and the U.S. would continue to work together "to achieve a swift resolution."
Mohamed’s case has become a major embarrassment to the British government. He alleged that he’d been tortured in Morocco at the behest of the U.S. government, with U.S. and British intelligence officials taking part in the interrogations.
Attorneys for Mohamed have said that classified U.S. documents prove that he was tortured and demonstrated British complicity in the process. The British government has said it was unable to release the documents after the U.S. warned that any such action would jeopardize intelligence sharing between the two countries.
The White House on Wednesday refused to discuss Mohamed’s prospects for release. A senior administration official confirmed that the U.S. was talking to British officials about Mohamed’s status and "have greatly appreciated the efforts of our British allies." The official spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the case…
Despite years of denials, new questions are being raised about Britain’s possible involvement in the torture of a detainee now on a prolonged hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Both an American military lawyer who’s seen classified documents on the case and the head of a special parliamentary committee said Tuesday that the British government might have been complicit in the alleged mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed. The former British resident was seized in 2002 and held in several countries — including Morocco, where he claims he was tortured — before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2004.
Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, a U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend Mohamed, said that British intelligence agency "MI5 was involved a long time ago" in the interrogation of her client.
"They were feeding certain information to his interrogators when he was in Morocco," said Bradley, who’s in London this week to lobby members of Parliament to press for her client’s release and his return to Britain.
Meanwhile, Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament and the head of a committee investigating extraordinary renditions — the international transfer of suspected terrorists by the U.S. — said he’s also convinced that Mohamed was "severely tortured" during interrogations and that British officials had a role in his mistreatment.
Tyrie said the official line on British involvement in torture "has gone from flat denials to a succession of admissions that there was involvement." The latter have come in the form of court documents, the most recent being last week’s ruling by a British high court.
Tyrie also said Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, which has broader authority than his own, "appears to have been misled" about Britain’s role in interrogations and torture of American detainees when it was preparing an official report on the subject in 2007. That report cleared Britain of any wrongdoing, saying the CIA never told British officials where detainees were being held or how they were being treated.
It emerged last week that 42 classified documents seen by the British court and Mohamed’s lawyers had never been passed on to the intelligence and security committee when it was researching Britain’s role in the case the case.
A possible probe of British intelligence agencies is …
Dear Obama Administration,
“In a closely watched case involving rendition and torture, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise a panel of federal appeals judges on Monday by pressing ahead with an argument for preserving state secrets originally developed by the Bush administration.
In the case, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian native, and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of Boeing for arranging flights for the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects were secretly taken to other countries, where they say they were tortured. The Bush administration argued that the case should be dismissed because even discussing it in court could threaten national security and relations with other nations.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama harshly criticized the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees, and he has broken with that administration on questions like whether to keep open the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made the same state-secrets argument on Monday, startling several judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.
“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.
Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration has no bearing?”
Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he was taking in court on behalf of the government had been “thoroughly vetted with the appropriate officials within the new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,” he said.”
There are so many, many, many things wrong with this. For starters, It’s a big, big mistake for any branch of government to have the power to simply declare that whole subjects are out of bounds, without any check on its veracity. We should have learned this from the very first case that established the state secrets privilege: the government said it could not divulge facts central to that case without jeopardizing national security, but when the documents involved were finally declassified, it turned out that it was just covering up for its own mistakes. The Obama administration cannot be expected to have reversed the court decisions on which this power depends in its first few weeks of office. But it can absolutely be expected not to use this power absent truly extraordinary circumstances.
It would be one thing if the state secrets privilege meant only that …
Continue reading. And then write a note to Obama:
What happened to transparency? What happened to finding out the truth? Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent finds that Obama’s promises in this area were false, false, false. The article begins:
In a move that’s sure to dismay some of President Obama’s faithful, the new administration today stood up in a federal appeals court and reiterated the Bush administrations’ arguments that victims of “extraordinary rendition” and torture should not be allowed to bring their claims in federal court because doing so would reveal “state secrets” and harm national security.
As we first reported in late January, the Bush administration had succeeded in getting the case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, dismissed by arguing that subject of the lawsuit — the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — was itself a state secret, regardless of how many times President Bush and various CIA directors had talked publicly about it.
Countering the arguments of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented five victims of the program who all claim they were abducted abroad and shipped to a foreign country to be brutally tortured, the government claimed that even allowing the federal judge overseeing the case to review any classified evidence behind closed doors would endanger national security.
The ACLU, the bipartisan Constitution Project and others have been watching this case closely. Since we first reported on it, in the past week The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times‘ editorial boards have both weighed in, urging the Obama administration to reconsider the Bush Justice Department’s claims.
Today, we got our answer: Obama’s executive orders and presidential memoranda on ending needless government secrecy notwithstanding, the Bush administration’s view that allowing torture victims to have their day in court is a danger to national security still stands.
It’s worth noting that while it’s still early in the new administration and Attorney General Eric Holder was just recently confirmed, the Justice Department did NOT ask the court for more time to consider its views on the case. Instead, it supported the Bush administration’s position that the case should be dismissed.
The Obama administration took a similar position in a related British case that I wrote about last week.
None of this bodes well for the likelihood of obtaining additional information about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies in the future.
Update: Here’s what ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero had to say after today’s hearing: …
Continue reading. So the deal Obama proposes is this: the US government can pick you up without a warrant, transport you to a foreign country with no due process, torture you to a fare-thee-well, figure out finally that you’re totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and you have no recourse, you get no restitution. You are SOL.
The sound you hear is total disgust. What Obama and Holder are doing is against the basic principles of this country.
Last week, two British High Court judges ruled against releasing documents describing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The judges said the Bush administration “had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information were made public.”
But The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that the documents actually “contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to [Mohamed’s] captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured.” In fact, it was British officials, not the Americans, who pressured Foreign Secretary David Miliband “to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution.” According to the Telegraph’s sources, the documents describe particularly gruesome interrogation tactics:
The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, “is very far down the list of things they did,” the official said.
Another source familiar with the case said: “British intelligence officers knew about the torture and didn’t do anything about it.”
“It is very clear who stands to be embarrassed by this and who is being protected by this secrecy. It is not the Americans, it is Labour ministers,” former shadow home secretary David Davis said. But one unnamed U.S. House Judiciary Committee member told the Telegraph that if President Obama “doesn’t act we could hold a hearing or write to subpoena the documents. We need to know what’s in those documents.”
Update: Today in San Francisco, "a little-publicised court case into the treatment of Mohamed will open" in federal court. Andrew Sullivan notes that "we’ll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did."
Leon Panetta has stated that there will be no prosecutions of CIA staff for torturing prisoners—not even, I suppose, if they killed the prisoner, as happened multiple times. The US is not what it was. Crooks & Liars has a very good post on this decision, from which I excerpt the following:
As I’ve written before — and Scott Horton in particular has done a great job in pointing to the correct legal precedents for — being told torture and other war crimes were legally justified (especially when they cannot be) is no excuse. International law which was in part established by American prosecutors and judges at Nuremberg is that it is up to each individual to act his conscience and to bear the consequences of so doing.
Worse, not prosecuting the torturers sets up a malicious feedback that fatally undermines prosecutions for ordering torture. If there’s no prosecution for commission of a crime, how can someone be prosecuted for ordering what is apparently admitted isn’t a crime? No defense lawyer is going to pass up such a gift argument and the Obama administration knows it. Not prosecuting those who tortured is a "get out of jail free card" not only for the torturers but for those who ordered torture and those who falsely said torture could ever be legal. It’s a travesty of justice and one that Chris Dodd has sadly admitted Democratic leaders have looked the other way on for purely political reasons.
And with the news that Panetta wants to reserve the possibility of using "enhanced interrogation" techniques which go beyond the US military code — which in turn is simply a retelling of the Geneva Conventions and binding treaties on torture — along with the Obama administration’s complicity in shielding Bush officials from revelations of torture…well, my Newshoggers colleague Jay McDonough is correct. "We cannot, despite assurances otherwise, trust our government not to render and torture detainees."
Barely two weeks out of office and Dick Cheney is already mongering fear. Unsurprisingly, it’s about Guantanamo Bay, where he says that generic Democrats — he’s intimating that he means President Obama, but he’s too much of a coward to say the man’s name — are "more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans." All this comes in an interview with Politico’s Mike Allen, John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, and for a good reason: they’re not going to challenge a single word Cheney says. For instance, take this paragraph:
Citing intelligence reports, Cheney said at least 61 of the inmates who were released from Guantanamo during the Bush administration—“that’s about 11 or 12 percent”—have “gone back into the business of being terrorists.”
percent" figure has been debunked by a widely-read Seton Hall University study. And just last week, Defense Secretary Bob Gates — who served with Cheney in the Bush administration, remember — said only "four or five percent" of released Guantanamo detainees have been involved in post-GTMO extremist activities. Three reporters on the Cheney interview and not so much as a single Google search among them.
Nor do Harris, VandeHei and Allen remind their readers that Cheney has a long history of deceit about national security. To reduce things to the facile partisan terminology that Politico relishes, even former House GOP leader Dick Armey says Cheney lied to him about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities ahead of the 2002 Iraq War vote in order to preempt inconvenient House GOP skepticism.
I should be fair. Politico knows how to get to the real beating heart of a story, like so:
If Cheney’s language was dramatic, the setting for the comments was almost bizarrely pedestrian. His office is in a non-descript suburban office building in McLean, in a suite that could just as easily house a dental clinic.
Get used to this sort of thing. Cheney needs to spread this sort of nonsense. Every day that the Obama administration rolls back his legacy and the U.S. isn’t attacked is another day in which Cheney’s contentions that the U.S. needed to embrace torture, preventive war and illegal surveillance in order to be safe is debunked. He has little choice but to spread the counternarrative that we’re actually just another day closer to another attack. That isn’t surprising. Cheney is what he is. What’s worth watching is how many media organizations, in order to secure the Newsmaker Interview, let him get away with it unchallenged.
It’s fraying. Take a look at this story:
Two British High Court judges ruled against releasing documents describing the treatment of a British detainee at the Guantanamo Bay prison, but made clear their reluctance, saying that the United States had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information were made public.
"We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence . . . relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be," Justice John Thomas and Justice David Lloyd Jones wrote.
The judges decided not to release information, supplied to the court by U.S. officials, concerning the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, 31, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002.
The decision touched off a wave of anger at Washington from the floor of Parliament to the offices of human rights groups.
"The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on," said David Davis, a top Conservative Party leader, speaking in the House of Commons.
Davis said it appeared the U.S. government had "threatened" the British government about the repercussions if details of the case were made public. "Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do," he said.
"The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the U.S. government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom," Davis said.
Mohamed was initially charged with planning a "dirty bomb" attack in the United States. Those charges were later dropped, but Mohamed has been held at the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba since September 2004 after allegedly confessing to being an al-Qaeda operative.
Mohamed says that evidence against him is based on confessions obtained by torture at the hands of U.S. officials and allies in "secret prisons" in Morocco and Afghanistan and later in Guantanamo.
Wednesday’s ruling was part of a long-running legal battle by Mohamed’s attorneys, who argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by U.S. officials, with British cooperation.
Attorneys for several British and American news media organizations petitioned the court to release the information it had about Mohamed’s treatment, which had been redacted from a court ruling last summer.
On Wednesday, the judges turned down the request to release the documents, saying that the United States continued to threaten to punish Britain by withholding intelligence cooperation if the court released details of Mohamed’s treatment.
Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, told reporters that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain was guilty of "capitulation to blackmail."
"It is hardly Britain’s finest hour," he said. "As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy." …
And I can’t wait for him to fall through. Scott Horton:
John Yoo is at it again. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the indefatigable advocate of crushing the testicles of small children to extract actionable intelligence launches a full frontal attack on President Obama. What’s Obama’s offense? He banned torture. Of course, every U.S. president has banned torture, with one solitary exception: George W. Bush, acting on the advice of John Yoo. Obama, Yoo says, has put the safety of Americans on the line: his torture ban will “seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Never mind, of course, that no evidence has been advanced of a single instance in which the use of torture produced intelligence that prevented a future terrorist attack, while detailed and specific evidence has now been put forward that torture produced bad intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Those are irritating details that detract from a nice narrative.
So what’s all this about? Is Yoo suffering from withdrawal pangs coming off an addiction to torture? Or is he a “sadist” as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann argues? I’ve followed John Yoo and his writings with some care for a while now, and I think I finally understand what this is about. Namely, a pending probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is looking at serious ethical issues surrounding the issuance of Yoo’s legal opinions.
But the OPR probe is far from Yoo’s only or even most pressing worry. The likelihood that he will face a criminal probe and then possibly prosecution is growing…
David Danzig has an excellent post in the Oxdown Gazette part of Firedoglake:
Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.
“[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations,” said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI.
“Some die-hards on the right – who have never interrogated anyone — are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in ‘coddling’ dangerous terrorists,” retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed. “This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality.”
The way interrogation works is largely misunderstood by the general public and some senior policy makers, according to Navarro, Herrington and other intelligence professionals.
“Interrogation is not like a faucet that you can turn on – and the harder you turn, the more information will pour out,” explains Herrington, who conducted a classified review of detention and interrogation practices in Iraq for the U.S. Army…
Continue reading. There’s more good stuff at the link.
UPDATE: Also read this excellent post.
You’d think that everyone would be happy that the US will no longer torture prisoners—a step in the right direction. Oddly enough, many people seemed displeased. One assumes, of course, that they don’t want to be tortured themselves, nor (probably) do they want to torture. They just want to be reassured that the US will continue to torture the occasional prisoner.
The torture fans, it should be noted, have had no experience in interrogation and really don’t seem to understand the goal: to get reliable information and induce a cooperative attitude. Those with actual interrogation expertise don’t believe that torture works nearly so well as other (and legal) methods. I refer you, for example, to How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, by Matthew Alexander and John Bruning.
Still, the media is doing what it seems to love to do: running excited stories to stir people up (and increase ratings). Media Matters has two good takedowns of the latest media scare: CNN, AP falsely claim that Pentagon says 61 Guantánamo detainees have returned to terrorism (43 may have returned to fight—but no real evidence). Media Matters has another smackdown here.
Also, watch this brief Rachel Maddow interview:
Hilzoy has a terrific post that begins:
Publius has already written about Sen. Cornyn’s decision to delay Eric Holder’s confirmation as Attorney General for a week. I just wanted to add a couple of points. Here’s what Cornyn said about his reasons for the delay:
“Other GOP members of the committee, said Cornyn, are also concerned about the potential for prosecutions. The intent of the Military Commissions Act, he argued, was to provide immunity from prosecution if agents believed they were acting lawfully.
“Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was,” said Cornyn.
“There were provisions providing immunity to intelligence officials based up on good faith and what they understood the law to be,” said Cornyn. “I want to know if he’s going to enforce congressional intent not to second guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse — the very kind of risk aversion…that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11.””
First, the Military Commissions Act does not immunize intelligence agents from prosecution for anything. In Sec. 6, it provides a list of things that can be prosecuted as war crimes. One of them is torture. Another is ‘cruel or inhuman treatment’. Insofar as we can infer congressional intent from this statute, we have ought to conclude that Congress intended that people who torture someone can be prosecuted: after all, Congress passed a law that expressly provides for their prosecution.
If John Cornyn and his colleagues meant to immunize intelligence officials for whatever they did, they should have passed a law saying so. If they wanted to immunize intelligence officials for doing anything that the Bush administration said was OK, however implausible the administration’s claims might be, they should have passed a law saying that. And if they wanted to add a codicil saying: “For the purposes of this statute, the practice known as ‘waterboarding’ is not a form of torture”, they should have done that.
But they didn’t do any of these things. They passed a law saying that people who engage in torture can be prosecuted for war crimes. Eric Holder, like many people, and like our government before George W. Bush got hold of it, believes that waterboarding is torture. Nothing in the Military Commissions Act says otherwise.
Second, because Eric Holder is not yet Attorney General, he has not yet had a chance to see what, exactly, people did to detainees over the last seven years. That being the case, it would be completely irresponsible for him to say whether he will or won’t prosecute them…
Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is worried that the Special Task Force on interrogation procedures and the Army Field Manual may end up recommending torture again. I think this is not likely, given that the Special Task Force will speak with actual experts in interrogation, who universally believe that torture simply is not efficient nor effective in gleaning reliable intelligence. But it’s a possibility I suppose.
A more likely problem is that the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual can also be used to torture people, if the procedures all are carried out simultaneously, as bmaz points out in this important post, which begins:
In an earlier post I discussed the startling direct admission that the United States tortures terror detainees made public in last Wednesday’s blockbuster Bob Woodward piece in the Washington Post. As the Bush Administration’s hand picked convening authority for the military tribunals, otherwise known as the “Gitmo Show Trials”, Susan Crawford’s admission carries the binding mark of credibility.
In this post, I want to explain the troublesome ramifications Crawford’s admission carries for the provisions in the Army Field Manual regarding the treatment and interrogation of detainees. And the Army Field Manual is a singularly important frame of reference because President-Elect Barack Obama famously staked his claim to being a torture reformer during the election by promising to restrict US detainee interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army Field Manual. President-Elect Obama is holding true to his word.
The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said.
… However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said.
This is where Susan Crawford’s stark admission comes into play. As Crawford admits, most all of the techniques used on al-Qahtani were actually permissible, but the layering of techniques compounded them into unmistakable torture…
The Beltway Elite, a.k.a. the Establishment, the Pundits, the Villagers, along with less complimentary names, sincerely believes that it represents the views of America as a whole. (Talk about ignorance—and their determination to keep it pristine means that they talk only to each other thus get the comfortable feeling that “everyone they talk to” agrees with them. Cf. Andrea Mitchell’s assertion that “Most people want Scooter Libby to get a pardon” the day after a poll showed that 70% of a representative sample of the country did NOT want Libby pardoned, while only 19% wanted the pardon.)
At any rate, Digby has an excellent post showing how the Beltway Elite are chattering to each other to reassure themselves that torture will not be abandoned, despite President Obama’s (how I love to type that) executive order to the contrary, because the American people want us to torture our enemies. The Beltway Elite—shoutout to the Franklin Mint—would be a great collectible set of small ceramic busts: the Self-Followers.
The point: read Digby’s post.
Glenn Greenwald has yet another good column in which he lays out the requirement that certain officials in the Bush administration be prosecuted for their actions:
It seems fairly easy — even for those overtly hostile to the basic rules of logic and law — to see what conclusions are compelled by these clear premises:
Mark Kleiman has an absolutely spot-on post that provides a solution to the tricky question of how to handle the war crimes committed by the last administration. Read it, by all means.